Tips to Avoid Spending too much during the Holiday Season

Spend Less, Enjoy More This Holiday Season

While Halloween kicks off the two-month season of fun, joy, and festivities, for some it can be a time of despair. Use these tips to help make your holidays merry and bright.

With consumer debt and mortgage eating up more than 100 percent of American’s after-tax personal income, it’s no wonder many of us fear the winter holiday season that starts in October. It’s sad this once joyous time of year has become such a dismal ordeal for many of us. The time we’re meant to celebrate with our families has become a year-end burden.

Like most people, I’ve been known to splurge on everyone and everything-including decorations, expensive food items, parties, party dresses, and, of course, gifts-this time of year, all in the name of good fun. But how much fun is it really when you start to dread the holidays?

You can still enjoy this magical season without getting depressed or bogged down with stress, credit card bills and debt, if you:

Create a budget for anticipated holiday spending. Ever heard of Christmas Clubs? These are low interest accounts that allow you to save small amounts-like $10-20 a week-in a separate account dedicated primarily to holiday spending. It’s really the best way to keep your sticky fingers off the cash and for a few dollars a week you can build a substantial holiday fund. Starting in January with just $10 a week, you could save about $450 by Thanksgiving. Or $15 a week would net about $700 and so on. And if you don’t spend all the money you can keep the balance in the account until next year.

Make a gift list (and stick to it). It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of giving and go overboard when you’re around all the holiday sights, sounds and smells that shop owners use to tempt us. By making a gift list, you can plan your gift giving by name and dollar amount. One catch: you must follow the list.

Shop early and strategically. I know, last-minute shopping can be fun, there are a lot of good deals and holiday excitement abounds, but invariably it will cost you more (ever heard of impulse buying?). Pick your shopping dates right now and circle them on the calendar. When you’ve bought everything on your list, put your treasures away and wait until you’re in a festive mood to wrap them. It will be more fun and, besides, after all that wrapping, you won’t want to buy anything else.

Use the “two-day plan.” If you see something you might want, put it on hold for two days, then consider whether the gift is right and if you can really afford it. This is especially useful if you’re finding things you want to buy for yourself.

Shop alone. You may be tempted to bring your pals along, but it’s really best to shop by yourself. Why? You can think better, quit when you get tired, and avoid impulse buying. Your friend might also point out that beautiful sweater that would look fabulous on you and talk you into buying it (remember the two-day plan).

Use your credit card sparingly. If you must buy on credit, it’s usually a good idea to use only one card so you can keep track of expenses. Use it only for convenience or make sure it’s the lowest interest card and can be paid off quickly (maximum 3 months into the new year). Also, be wary of thieves trying to get account numbers and ID through your mail box, trash, pick pocketing, looking over your shoulder, telemarketing, carbon copies, etc.

Give from the heart. Can’t afford it? Then don’t spend it! Gifts are not the most important things in life, you know. If you absolutely must give something and the money doesn’t exist, give something you made yourself. One gift I’m giving my amateur photographer husband this year (but don’t tell him) is a wooden picture frame mounted with four black and white shots he’s taken on our various trips to New York, Charleston, SC, and St. Augustine, FL. The frame costs about $15 and we already have the prints.

You can also give your specialty home-baked breads and treats, your own artwork or poetry framed for display, personalized pottery or crafts, a favorite photo made into a poster, favors like car washing, baby-sitting, back rubbing, house cleaning, etc. Use your imagination and have a blast coming up with fun ideas!

Don’t let this holiday season scare you (except maybe on Halloween night); with a little planning and some self-control, you can enjoy the peace, goodwill and fellowship the holidays are meant to bring.

And one last thought: no matter what holidays you celebrate this winter, let the spirit of the season lift you up and help you remember the best gifts in life are good health, good friends and peace of mind.